News Column

Getting Jim Carrey signed up was a real yes moment ; Here's looking at you, kid Danny Wallace, 36, writer, presenter, producer, author

May 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Iwas born in a small village called Letham, in Dundee, Scotland. It was a great place to be, the home of the Beano, and I was a huge fan as a kid.

My first memories are chasing a cat around the fields behind our house, and kicking a ball. We moved to the city soon after and suddenly everything was a bit more exciting. I was an only child, so it was weird going to school and meeting other little people, but I soon made some great friends.

Iwas seven when we came to Loughborough, my dad got a professorship at the university. I had a thick Dundee accent and didn't fit in at all. No one understood me. There was a lot of staring. So it had to go. s And it went quickly.

I went to Holywell Primary School and, later, Garendon High. We lived near the university, in Spinney Hill Drive. I remember mum coming home one day and laughing, saying someone had called her me duck''. What a great term of endearment that is.

Me and my mates used to sneak into the university grounds and run from the security guards. We were polite kids, but this felt cheeky. It was an unwritten rule they wouldn't come on to the grass, then one day a couple of guys in a shonky old van mounted the field and chased us. I was so shaken up I cried. I went back, when I turned 30, with my mate, Emile. We snuck on to the grass and felt so naughty. Then we realised we were 30 and, essentially, looked like lecturers.

I think writing has always come quite naturally. The first thing I wrote in Loughborough I got into trouble for. It was a story about a teacher who was a bit of a bully. I changed his name slightly but it got round and he saw it.

He pinned me up against the wall by the throat and, as he dropped me, a hint of good humour crossed his face. I was terrified, but that was when I realised the power of words.

We left Loughborough and moved to Berlin in 1990. Dad was an expert in German literature and when the Berlin wall started teetering, we sold the car, bought a camper van, filled it with enough stuff for a year and drove there.

Dad had been going to Germany for years and, although I never realised it at the time, he'd been spied on in many ways. There was a KGB thing, our phones were tapped, even a couple of people we thought were family friends turned out to be Stasi secret police.

Berlin was exciting. I went to an American school, which I thought was cool and, although I missed my friends, it was only for a year.

When I was 15 and living in Bath, I saved up from my paper round and got a Sega Megadrive.

I knew of this Sega magazine in town and hassled them for work experience. I mostly made tea but then, one day, a reviewer was ill and they let me have a go. When they called me into the editor's office, I thought I was in for it - until they offered me a job. Being paid to play games and write about them as a teenager. I fell in love. When I look back at the video games I played back then, they were appalling compared to now, and yet I was so impressed.

At home, I watched episodes of Have I Got News For You and played tapes of Fawlty Towers and Blackadder to death. They made me realise you could create comedy in an inventive, sophisticated way. During my time at the publishing company, we launched a mag called Comedy Review. That was when I met Ross Noble. He was my first interview and I his.

We spent the whole day eating pizza and laughing. We became firm friends. When I moved to London, most people I met were comics - people such as Adam Bloom, Chris Addison and The Mighty Boosh. I saw them upstairs in a pub with a handful of people. I knew then I wanted to work with them.

Radio 4 didn't like The Boosh. They said it was a million miles away from their listeners. My boss, John Pidgeon, found some money under a sandwich on his desk and we made the show anyway. It was first aired on local London radio between the sports results. Radio 4 jumped on it as soon as they heard. That felt amazing.

I started my weird adventure with Dave Gorman in the '90s, too. We ended up in a flat together in Harrow and hanging out at Edinburgh.

I'd been promised a place on a media course at Westminster University. When I finally decided that was what I wanted to do with my life, they turned me down. I wrote them a pompous letter and they changed their minds. I argued my way in and it was the best thing I could have done.

I arrived at the BBC as a trainee comedy producer and I'd been taught how to edit and create programmes, yet the first show I did was with Ross, on reel to reel. If you spoke to young people now, they'd assume I was about 95. At uni I'd had access to the latest technology, while at the BBC I was spending the night cutting film with a razor blade and sticking it together.

I dabbled a bit in TV but got that what-do-I-do? feeling again. That's when the cult, Join Me, happened. I don't know what it was. It led to adventures.

The first member, the first guy who answered the ad and I met that day in the pub, actually found his wife through the group. I went to their wedding.

Ten years on, it actually looks like a proper cult.

I'm not sure how things like presenting Castaway happen. I try to go where the fun is, do it well and hope more will come. Being in favour at the BBC meant I got offered stuff like Test The Nation - three hours of live TV with no autocue, the most nervewracking, exciting time.

I met my wife, Greta, through a friend, in 2003, but her visa soon ran out and she had to go back to Australia. It was heartbreaking, we'd fallen for each other. She came back for me, though, and we have a little boy together now, who's three-and-a- half. We like to keep ourselves to ourselves. She asked to be called Lizzie in my books, that distinction from real life.

Life as a father is different, I worry more. I found it hard when doing the breakfast show on XFM, having to get up early, so much less sleep and reading every story in the paper. Papers give a bleak impression of the world - there's danger everywhere. It also made me realise life is not just about me any more.

But I was sad to leave the breakfast show last year, I loved it. Listening to the same songs grated, but it's a huge honour to do a show like that, to be part of someone's life every morning.

My part in (multi-million selling game) Assassins Creed happened by accident, really. I was presenting an award at the video games BAFTAs a couple of years ago and a man walked up to me and said: We're working on a game and I've got a character written just for you.'' Clearly, I imagined this heroic figure, but when I got my top- secret script, it read nerdy, intense, lonely, sarcastic man''. I've done four now, and the fans go crazy for it.

I recently won a BAFTA for my character in an indie game called Thomas Was Alone. That was just this random man who e-mailed, asking me to narrate something he was putting together. I thought it was a really beautiful game and it's done well.

This stuff is fun, like my hobby. The main thing for me is writing - that feels like a job and what I'm best at.

I think writing Yes Man and then the film was a significant moment. I knew as soon as Jim Carrey got on board it was no longer just a Danny Wallace book barely anyone had read.

It was a really calm and kind production, not the ruthless Hollywood you imagine. Jim was amazing, an intense man, who would suddenly throw himself on the floor to see if it was funny. He cracked a few ribs that way, but it was so worth it.

I write a weekly column for the ShortList and my inspiration, well, weird stuff does happen. I ended up on a billboard, with a monkey, all over Egypt because some guy used my picture from the internet; and I inexplicably became the face of an American religious movement. I guess I take a situation and funny it up.

I've started a new novel, I've been writing today. I'm quite disciplined, I feel like someone who's got a mass Catholic guilt without actually being Catholic. When you hit a scene, though, that chasing feeling as you're getting somewhere, is a happy thing.

I'm enjoying touring my debut novel Charlotte Street. It's nice to meet people who've read the book.

I immediately feel like I know them, because they know about me and that adventure. A novel was another box I wanted to tick. You have to move on and try different things.

I wrote a sitcom pilot recently and went to America to make it. It didn't get any further, but I'd quite like to do something like that here, maybe a comedy drama. It's achievable. All you have to do is sit down and start writing - that's the great thing about it.

Looking back, I think there is some TV I probably shouldn't have done. People can't judge you by what you've said no to. Ironically, for someone who wrote a book about saying yes, I've said no a lot lately, to concentrate on the things I want to do. That's a healthy thing to have learnt. ? .M: Danny Wallace will be at Waterstones, Market Street, Leicester, on Thursday, from 1pm, to sign copies of his novel, Charlotte Street.

'' I was seven when we came to Loughborough, my dad got a professorship at the university. I had a thick Dundee accent and didn't fit in at all. No one understood me. There was a lot of staring. So it had to go. And it went quickly ''

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.


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